3 Unexpected Things Business Can Learn From Australia Day

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Written By Athina Antarakis

In my family, Australia Day has always meant my sister’s birthday. Not once in 48 years can I remember doing anything vaguely patriotic on the day itself – in fact, my key memory from when we were young is my mother frantically trying to buy out-of-season strawberries for my sister’s birthday cake (not so easy in the 70s). But with the government threatening local councils who dare to move citizenship ceremonies and an increasingly loud call for a change of date, I was prompted to think about what, if anything, business can learn from Australia Day and its myriad meanings.

Here are my Top 3 takeaways.

  1. Decisions are emotional, not rational

If you thought Australia Day was just a well-timed public holiday between the Xmas/New Year Bacchanal and the ‘real’ start of the year (around 10 February), think again – over time the day has become so laden with symbolism that it’s hard to remember exactly what the original intent was. That’s probably why people are happy to imbue it with their own meaning – whether that’s an unfortunate reminder of more than 200 years of dispossession and oppression or a call to arms for the kind of people who think the Cronulla Riots were a proud moment in our history.

The lesson? From Apple ‘Macolytes’ to Converse converts, when consumers feel like they are part of a tribe they are far more likely to remain loyal, often without any logical reason to be so. That’s because, whatever we tell ourselves, we tend to make decisions for emotional rather than rational reasons.

  1. There’s always competition

This may come as a shock, but not everyone cares about Australia Day. They might be new to the country and not see what the fuss is all about. They may be celebrating something else entirely on the day – a birthday, anniversary, getting their citizenship – and alternately grateful for the day off and slightly miffed because, like Christmas, the bigger event will always eclipse their personal celebration. Sure, some of them may be swayed by the fireworks and neighbourhood BBQs, but others will just go about their business as if it’s a normal day.

Likewise in business. No matter how top of mind we like to think we are, there will always be people who either don’t know – or care – that we exist, or choose to take their business elsewhere even if they do. One of the best things we can do is to nurture our existing clients by lavishing them with affection and an experience that’s second-to-none, so they won’t even think about leaving us for someone else. And knowing when to give up on the non-believers.

  1. Sometimes pivoting can open new horizons

Then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull turned to social media in 2017 to talk about the delights of Australia Day, saying ‘a free country debates its history, it doesn’t deny it’. That’s all well and good Malcolm, but what you can’t deny is the fact that 26 January commemorates an event which coincided with the start of the widespread and calculated dispossession and marginalisation of Indigenous people. Many would argue that the process continues to this day. So apart from anything else, it’s poor taste to suggest that Indigenous people should just cop it because we should ‘debate, not deny’ our history.

What the rhetoric doesn’t always take into account, though, is the enormous opportunity moving the date represents. One of our best attributes is that as a relatively young country, we are still a work in progress. We don’t have thousands of years of history to weigh us down, as much as we may look to our collective heritage as migrants. It’s one reason why our cuisine is so diverse and imaginative – we’re not shackled to one way of doing things.

Triple J changed the date of their Hottest 100 and while they copped some flack, the sky did not, as predicted, fall in. And as Maggie Walter argues in The Conversation, if we ever want to become a Republic – as potent a symbol of a country’s coming-of-age as anything – then changing the date is a first, crucial step.

It occurred to me that holding on to something that’s not really working – that is, in fact, actively offending a portion of our society – feels a bit bloody minded. Like Kodak hanging on to film long after digital cameras were a thing, or IBM deciding that computers were simply never going to take off.

In business, sometimes change is the best way to survive. Sometimes, it’s the only way.